Wim Wenders began his prolific feature filmmaking career in 1970, and nearly half a century later — having directed such cinephile favorites as Alice in the Cities, The American Friend, Paris, Texas, and Wings of Desire along the way — he shows no signs of slowing down. Known for his collaboration with cinematographers, and with Robby Müller in particular, Wenders has worked in everything from black-and-white 16-millimeter film, when he first started out, to digital 3D, which he’s spent recent years putting to a variety of cinematic ends. But we can trace all of his visions back, in one way or another, to the humble Polaroid instant camera.
“Every movie starts with a certain idea,” says Wenders in the short “Photographers in Focus” video above, and the Polaroid was just a collection of constant ideas.” The auteur speaks over images of some of the Polaroids he’s taken throughout his life, relating his history with the medium.
“My very first Polaroid camera was a very simple one. Mid-sixties. I was 20, and I used Polaroid cameras exclusively until I was about 35 or so. Most of them I gave away, because when you took Polaroids, people were always greedy and wanted them because it was an object, it was a singular thing.”
Wenders describes his Polaroids as “very insightful into the process of my first six, seven movies, all the movies I did through the seventies,” the era in which he mastered the form of the road movie first in his native Germany, then in the much-mythologized United States. He not only shot Polaroids in preparation, but during production, snapping them casually, much as one would on a genuine road trip. “Polaroids were never so exact about the framing. You didn’t really care about that. It was about the immediacy of it. It’s almost a subconscious act, and then it became something real. That makes it such a window into your soul as well.” Polaroid photographs, as Wenders sees them, capture a deeper kind of truth. It’s no surprise, then, even in age of the 3D digital camera, to see them making a comeback.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.